The Investment Column: Shaftesbury is the right partner for a West End venture

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The Independent Online

Our view: Hold

Share price: 702p (-1p)

The property group Shaftesbury is a proxy for investing in London's success. When the capital does well so does Shaftesbury. Hence, few were surprised to see a stellar set of annual results from the company yesterday. It unveiled a 30 per cent rise in the value of its assets to 590p a share, while the amount of income it derived from its portfolio grew 8.3 per cent to £47m.

Shaftesbury mainly rents space to bar and shop owners in the West End of London. It owns most of Chinatown, big chunks of Covent Garden's theatre district, and practically all of Carnaby Street. London is booming, thanks to the success of the City of London, which these days is a financial centre to rival New York. The capital is also doing well in attracting wealthy people from abroad, particularly from Russia and the Middle East.

Next year, Shaftesbury shareholders look set to receive an added boost as the group is tipped to convert into a low-tax real estate investment trust (REIT). REIT status means Shaftesbury will have to pay virtually no tax, allowing it to raise its dividend by up to 60 per cent. Also, it will make the company even more vulnerable to takeover by one of the big beasts of the property world or private equity.


Our view: Worth a punt

Share price: 72.5p (unch)

At first glance, yesterday's first-half results from Byotrol look dire. The technology group, which listed on AIM last year, registered a loss of £1m, and on sales of just £116,000. However, focusing on these figures would be a mistake, because key to this company is the potential for its lead product, also called Byotrol, which addresses a multibillion-pound market.

The group has developed a unique disinfectant which works in a fundamentally different way to anything presently on the market. Normal disinfectants merely poison bacteria. Byotrol works in an altogether more sophisticated way. It puts a microscopically thin coating over the area being targeted, thereby preventing bacteria from being able to attach themselves to the surface. This is fatal for bacteria, because if they are unable to attach themselves they are left weak and, importantly, unable to breed. A further part of the formula works to poison them.

Byotrol has four major advantages over traditional disinfectants. First, it is much more effective. A six-month trial of the product in Glasgow Royal Infirmary showed that a small fraction of the formula on high-contact areas such as door handles and bed rails reduces the presence of the deadly MRSA bacteria by up to 50 per cent. Second, because of the way it works, it is very difficult for bacteria to become resistant to it. Third, it uses tiny amounts of poison, meaning it does not have the negative impact on humans that traditional bleaches can have. Finally, the product can work for days and even months after being applied.

Alongside the MRSA superbug, Byotrol is effective against E. coli and listeria, making it perfect for use in hospitals. In fact, the great thing about using it in hospital wards is that it causes little disruption. It is relatively easy to kill MRSA by filling a ward with super-heated steam, but it is impossible to use any part of the ward while this is being done. Byotrol has no such problem.

Aside from its application in the healthcare sector, the product can be used in food processing and industrial sectors.

As yesterday's results show, the company is still in its infancy and therefore its shares are not for widows and orphans. Nevertheless, given the size of the market opportunity, they are worth a punt.


Our view: Sell

Share price: 172.5p (-5.25p)

Investors looking for a revitalising tonic in the tech hardware sector had better steer clear of Filtronic. The telecoms equipment manufacturer has steadily sold off its core businesses to focus on technology used to power mobile phones and electronic defence systems. News that Filtronic expects a flat performance from those businesses in the second half of its year due to subdued demand has piled pressure on the company.

Investors can take some comfort from Filtronic's large cash pile. After all the disposals, cash and the stake it owns in a US company called Powerwave Technologies account for almost three-quarters of its current market valuation.

Filtronic recently appointed a new chief executive, who has got the company's house in order. Yet the poor outlook has raised concerns over where he can steer the company. Competition from China is rapidly emerging, which is not a good sign, while RFMD, a key customer, looks to be bringing more of its work in-house. There is also the threat of silicon and gallium nitrate-based technologies emerging to pressure Filtronic's superior, but expensive, gallium arsenide-based technology. With so much uncertainty, Filtronic shares are best exited.